DENVER, Colo. - Don’t tell Montee Ball the fourth preseason game doesn’t matter. Ball, the Denver Broncos running back who set the NCAA rushing touchdown record during his career at Wisconsin, and just three years ago, came to Denver as a second round pick, and very well may have been fighting for his career Thursday night, as the Broncos fell 20-22 in their preseason finale to the Arizona Cardinals.
Ball has struggled mightily this preseason, finding it difficult to stand out in a crowded field of Broncos running backs. Despite his status as a high draft pick, he needed a standout performance against the Cardinals to beat out first-year runner Kapri Bibbs and secure a roster spot. He didn’t get it. Ball recorded 16 carries for just 27 yards, a miserable 1.7 yards per carry average.
“It could’ve been better," Ball said after the game. "It’s tough, you know, in the fourth preseason game because you’ve got a mixture of everybody in there. You’ve got a mixture of speed, tempo and all that stuff. Like I said, there’s always room for improvement. I could’ve done something out there. I already talked to my running back coach and he told me to keep my head up. He said: ‘You put it all out there today.’”
Ball was not the only Bronco fighting for a roster spot, and while the final score of the game really doesn’t matter, individual performances do. Rookie quarterback Trevor Siemian has spent the preseason fighting to convince the coaches he’s worth keeping an extra quarterback on the roster.
His performance Thursday night did not help his cause. Siemian got the opportunity to run the third and fourth string offense in the second half against the Cardinals, going a pedestrian 11-for-24 for 104 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.
Despite his mediocre performance Thursday, Siemian did not seem concerned about his job security in Denver. “It’s out of my control,” Siemian said. “I’m not too worried about it.”
For Siemian to make the roster, head coach Gary Kubiak would likely have to commit to carrying three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, something he has been reluctant to do in the past.
While both Siemian and Ball face questionable futures with the Broncos, Shaquil Barrett appears to have secured a spot on the final roster. Barrett, a first-year outside linebacker out of Colorado State University, has wowed fans and coaches alike this preseason, recording at least one sack in each game and showing the skill-set of an elite pass rusher.
Barrett recorded two sacks and seven total tackles in Thursday night’s game.
“It felt good,” Barrett said. “I feel good about the situation, but I’ve still got the butterflies. I just don’t know. So, I’m staying by my phone just in case I get a call, but hopefully I don’t have to get it.” If Gary Kubiak has anything to say about it, Barret likely won’t have to worry about getting a call. “48 continues to stand out to me,” Kubiak said. “He’s had a great preseason.”
First round pick Shane Ray has also displayed elite pass rushing prowess this preseason and he showcased it again Thursday night, recording a strip-sack that was recoverd by Vance Walker. Factoring in the depth of the roster, the Broncos will have plenty of tough decisions to make this weekend, as they cut their roster from 75 to the final 53, so Kubiak has plenty of work to do.
“I think depth is a key,” Kubiak said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make our football team better. I think we’re going to look at every position, not just one or two, with what’s out there from a cuts standpoint.”
The Broncos must finalize their roster by 2:00 p.m. MDT on Saturday afternoon. We'll keep you posted.
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